While shoppers indulge in the conspicuous consumption1 that too often marks the Christmas season, Buy Nothing Day celebrants take a one-day break from purchasing anything at all. Part boycott, part protest, Buy Nothing Day is a 24-hour moratorium on consumer spending, designed to remind the consumer and the retailer of the true power of the buying public2. The non-monetary event with the motto 'Participate by not Participating' is observed in at least 60 countries.
There are no Buy Nothing Day strictures. It's up to each person to decide how to take a stand against the over-commercialization of Christmas. Some engage in absolutely no commerce, some barter, some buy only what they deem necessary, and some purchase only local or fair-trade products. Some engage in activism while others simply refrain from shopping for one day.
Buy Nothing Day Origins
Vancouver, BC artist Ted Dave designated 24 September, 1992 as the first Buy Nothing Day. The following year, the anti-consumerism event had spread well beyond Canada's borders. Buy Nothing Day also moved to the fourth Friday of November, known to North American retailers as Black Friday3, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and the official start of the Christmas shopping orgy. In other parts of the world, Buy Nothing Day activities coincide with the day of the most conspicuous holiday consumption. For example in most European countries, Buy Nothing Day activities take place on the last Saturday of November.
Critics suggest the impact of a one-day shopping boycott is insignificant. One need only wait a single day to buy that flat-screen television, after all. Buy Nothing Day activists say the point is to rethink personal patterns of consumption.
It's quite a challenge to restrain yourself, but it makes you realize that you do have power in the marketplace, and that you exercise that power with every purchase.
- Ted Dave4
Buy Nothing Day Activism
Buy Nothing Day events include rallies, protests, workshops, and street theater. Some Buy Nothing Day activists stage events in shopping malls designed to provoke thought or laughter, such as giving away gift exemption certificates. Some activists have reportedly dressed as zombies and shambled through the aisles of a shopping center, staring vacuously at holiday merchandise and shoppers.
Prominent Buy Nothing Day activist Bill Talen, using the stage name Reverend Billy, combines comedy, street theatre, and gospel music to combat the commercialization of Christmas. Rev Billy has been preaching his unique brand of tent revival5 anti-consumerism since 1999. His mission to save humanity from the shopocalypse6 was the subject of the 2007 documentary film What Would Jesus Buy?
Although Vancouver's Adbusters magazine has been promoting Buy Nothing Day since its inception, the anti-consumerism event has attracted little mainstream media attention. Major news outlets, whose advertisers generally dislike shopping boycotts, tend to focus on holiday shoppers and sales.
Other Buy Nothing Day Activities and Observances
Concerns for the environment, social justice, and corporate power motivate some Buy Nothing Day participants, while others simply use the time for traditional holiday activities such as making handcrafted gifts, volunteering, or enjoying the company of family and friends.
If commercialization has become your least favorite Christmas tradition, consider an alternative: Buy Nothing Day.